November 10, 2007

Autour-du-mondegreens: bunkum unbound

Ben Ostrowsky writes:

I've noticed a new tendency toward an old kind of language play ("Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames"). The new rules:

1. Find a music video in a language you don't understand.
2. Construe the lyrics as if they were in a language you do understand. Aim for the surreal and outrageous.
3. Add your subtitles and upload the video to YouTube.

Ben offered two examples, first a hacked video of Dschengis Khan's Moskau (from which the still is taken), and an Icelandic children's video reborn under the title "You are a Pirate! RAUNCHYY" ("Riding a lemur is alright with me...").

The first of these that I saw was another children's video, originally Dutch, that was posted on youtube in early September as "Fart in the duck". Chandan Narayan sent me the link, and it's been on my to-blog list ever since.

Ben adds:

I can think of no better name for these than "Autour-du-mondegreens" and selfishly hope nobody else can, either.

One lesson to learn from these subtitling efforts is how easy it is to find non-systematic phonetic similarities across languages, of the sort that Daniel Cassidy has used to see the relationship between bunkum and Buanchumadh and more broadly to argue that The Irish Invented Slang.

Robert Cumming writes:

My guess is that the first autour-du-mondegreen to really take off could have been the Arabic-to-Swedish 'Hatten är din' in 2000. See Wikipedia ( and Youtube ( Another well-known example from about the same time - and the same artist, Azar Habib - is 'Ansiktsburk' (face-tub/carton) ( In Swedish, the genre is known as 'turkhits' and there's a list of the best known on Wikipedia (

At least one blogger has speculated ( that what Azar Habib was singing about was in fact not face-tubs but social networking sites - 'ansiktsbok' is the literal translation of Facebook.

And Caitlin Light points out that another of this phenomenon, in the form of Flash videos known as fanimutations, has been around at least since 2001, with "one of the earliest/most famous being Caitlin observes that "for a while there were a whole lot of videos like this this popping up all over the internet".

Kim Belcher wrote to trace the animutation back to a 2001 effort by then-14-year-old Neil Cicierega, Hyakugojyuuichi!!!. Kim explains:

According to wikipedia, the pieces derived from Cicierega's stuff are now called animutation. As well as mondegreens, they usually include visual non-sequiturs, especially faces of famous people or characters. I don't know if this was derived from your Swedish-out-of-Arabic connection or is entirely independent. Definitely Hyakugojyuuichi!!! is still referenced in many tongue-in-cheek fanart pieces on the web.

And Gwyan Rhabyt writes:

There was an article in Wired this month about Buffalax (who did the Dschingis Khan video you mentioned). [Monty Phan, "Buffalax Mines Twisted Translations for YouTube Yuks", 11/6/2007.] As someone who teaches both video production and postmodern art theory, I'm sure there's a paper in here somewhere, though the genre needs a better title than autour-du-mondegreens.

In my book, Buffalax's masterpiece is:

Gwyan added in a later note:

As a follow up to my last email, the video I mentioned and the male lead, a major Tamil star by the name of Prabhu Deva, have both become known by the name "Benny Lava" after the subtitles from Buffalax. A quick Google search reveals 130,000 hits for "Benny Lava", marking some serious cultural momentum.

Rob Stryker observes that "what my friends and I know as the best-done misheard lyrics out there today" is Kewen's version of the Nightwish song Wishmaster.]

[Olaf Hellman writes:

The song-lyrics-in-a-different-language wordplay is a long-running gag on the Tamori Club TV show in Japan -- It is called 'soramimi'.

Japanese wikipedia lists the Soramimi Hour segment of the 'Tomori Club' TV show as dating from April 1992.

We can take the idea of cross-linguistic mondegreens even further back, to Luis van Rooten's 1967 book Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames, which Ben Ostrowsky mentioned in starting this discussion.]

[Cosma Shalizi writes:

I'm not sure if it really counts, since it's nonsense in the base language, but I have always been struck by the following passage from James's Principles of Psychology (ch. 11,

In the meaningless French words 'pas de lieu Rhône que nous,' who can recognize immediately the English 'paddle your own canoe'? But who that has once noticed the identity can fail to have it arrest his attention again?


[And Laura Kalin sends a link to the original Dutch lyrics of "Fart in the Duck", which feature the refrain "er zit een gat in mijn dak" (= "there's a hole in my roof").

[Dan Tobias reports a couple of genuine cross-linguistic mondegreens, based on mishearing (or at least a naively new hearing) rather than an intentional miscontrual:

Regarding your comments about odd renditions (sometimes done intentionally for comic effect) of lyrics from one language to another, I can recall as a kid in first grade being taught the song "Alouette" (with lyrics in French), and singing it using similar sounding words that made more sense to me:

I am wet, ah
Jumping, I am wet, ah
I am wet, ah
Jumping in the rain

Jumping in the rain, I bet
I will get very wet
Very wet, very wet
I am wet, I am wet

I am wet, ah
Jumping in the rain

Also, I've always heard the French lyrics in the middle of the Beatles song "Michelle" as "Sunday monkey won't play piano song".


[Maria Garibotti writes:

As another example, the song "Dragostea Din Tei" (that Romanian song that was a meme a while ago) was, uhm, translated into Spanish by a Spanish band called "Los Morancos". The song is an absurd gay pride song, and it was a big hit in South America and Spain back in 2004 (or 05? Maybe Summer of 04-05). The lyrics are

Marica quien?
Marica Tu
Marica Yo
Marica HAHA! x 4

Valor, a la luz
si eres un Gay tú
Piensalo (piensalo)
es tu vida y si dicen po que digan (que digan lo que quieran)

Valor... valor (mucho valor)
Que oscuro es un armario
Sal de ahí (sal de ahí)
y vente aquí
Tu destino es ser feliz...

Fiesta Fiesta
Y Pluma pluma Gay
Pluma pluma Gay
Pluma pluma pluma Gay x 4

Que importa si el niño sale gay
tu has nacido gay
aunque cueste...
Hay que gritarlo...
กกก SOY GAY !!!
Fiesta Fiesta
Y Pluma pluma Gay
Pluma pluma Gay
Pluma pluma pluma Gay x 4

Marica quien?
Marica Tu
Marica Yo
Marica JAJA!


Posted by Mark Liberman at November 10, 2007 12:15 PM